In “Broken Flowers”, Murray plays Don Johnston, an “over the hill Don Juan” whose latest conquest (Julie Delpy) has just walked out the door. Don has had many loves in his life and he’s made a lot of money “in computers”, but he finds himself alone in his big empty house, a “kinda old” man without a purpose. Then comes the letter, a simple missive on pink stationery which informs him that he has an almost 19 year old son looking for him somewhere. With the help of his neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright), who has three jobs and five kids but still finds time to be a hobbyist detective, Don comes up with a shortlist of four women he might have “impregnated with (his) semen 20 years ago”. Winston tracks down their addresses, plans an itinerary, makes plane tickets and rental car reservations, burns him a CD of travel music and voilà! Don is on his way.
The road trip is one of the oldest premises in the book, but it can still be put to good use. Alas, writer-director Jim Jarmusch makes two crucial mistakes. First, it takes way too long for things to get going. One of the most attractive things about a road trip as a storytelling tool is NOT having to spend half an hour setting things up. You put your protagonist on the road as soon as you can and you fill in the blanks as you go along. The other common mistake in this kind of film is having the narrative become too episodic. In the best road movies, each stop is integral to the journey, developing the characters through how they act and react in unpredictable situations. In “Broken Flowers”, there’s no progression, it wouldn’t make a difference if you switched the order of the stops at random. Don’s a blank at the beginning, and he’s still a blank at the end.
Jarmusch’ picture would still be salvageable if at least the entertainment value was consistent, but no luck. He has Murray taking the deadpan thing too far, until he often appears to be just dead, and most of the other actors are similarly wasted. Delpy disappears from the movie before she has time to make an impression, Tilda Swinton is nearly unrecognizable and her character is not particularly interesting either way, Frances Conroy and Christopher McDonald play little more than caricatures and Jessica Lange gets outacted by a cat. The only memorable performances come from Sharon Stone and Alexis Dziena as her daughter Lolita (“Interesting choice of name.”), both really sexy and funny in the film’s best segment.
I have no idea what “Broken Flowers” is supposed to be, beside an inconsequential study in awkward reunions. “This whole thing is a farce, a fiasco” says Murray’s character at some point, and I can’t help but feel that this is a critique of the film as a whole.